Inventories can help homeowners

Published 12:00 am Monday, July 21, 2008

It’s a scenario that no homeowner wants to face. Go out for dinner and come back to see fire trucks lining your driveway.

Or your holiday at the beach turns into a tragedy when you walk in the front door to find your house has been ransacked.

After the shock subsides a little and family and friends lend support, these homeowners must face the business of facing a disaster. And that means contacting the insurance agent.

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Although no one wants to face these situations, they do happen and the best way to bounce back is to take a few precautionary steps.

One of those is to document just exactly what you have inside your home.

Recently the Ohio Department of Insurance Director Mary Jo Hudson suggested that homeowners create an inventory to aid when it comes time for filing claims.

“Disasters can strike without notice or warning,” Hudson said. “If something does happen to your home and possessions are damaged or destroyed, having an updated home inventory can make the claims process a smooth one.”

In 2006 property damage from fire, lightning or debris accounted for 34.68 percent of all homeowners’ claims. This is up almost 10 percent from the previous year when claims made up 24.19 percent. Claims from vandalism and malicious mischief of property made up 7.76 percent of all homeowners’ claims in 2006. That is up from 6.69 percent in 2005. Those statistics are according to the Insurance Information Institute.

Local insurance agents agree with the state director that a thorough and complete inventory of a home’s contents can make it easier for the homeowner when facing the distress of placing a claim.

However, the agent can also play a big role in making sure the losses are accurately reimbursed, says Warren Armstead, an Ironton insurance agent.

“Your first line of defense for a claim is the agent himself,” Armstead said.

When a homeowner is setting up initial insurance coverage, the agent can get a firsthand look at the contents of a home. That’s when the agent can learn if there is any special type of contents or if there are such items as an extensive amount of jewelry or a special collection such as guns, paintings or silver.

“This will give a general idea of what is covered, if it is done properly,” he said.

However, a more concrete inventory is the best avenue.

“All companies have a home inventory form,” Armstead said. “Now they even have it on software basically from furniture to arts and crafts, electronics and miscellaneous that might include blinds, clothing, cameras.”

It is most effective if these inventories are broken down room by room,

“The forms themselves have a list of things that might be there, the value, the date purchased,” he said. “You keep it in a safe deposit box or ask an agent. We will keep in it our files.”

Armstead even has a client who keeps his inventory on a CD with the prices of each item.

Another route a homeowner may take is to go room by room with a video recorder and detail each room’s contents.

“I would walk through the house and say, ‘This is a 42-inch Sony’ and even have the serial number and the price you paid for it,” Thomas Walden, an Ironton insurance agency owner, said. “On serial numbers, the reason is for theft. If somebody steals your TV, you will have something to trace.”

And updating is just as vital, Walden says.

“Three years from now, you might have a new dishwasher. Go back and do an edit,” he said.

Even keeping track of the seeming minutia is important like pairs of pants or socks.

“People don’t think about an alarm clock,” he said. “When you have a deductible, that will go toward that deductible. It might not mean much for you now, but will later.”